Tuesday, April 7, 2015

Core Response #3: Not Even Death is Final

Something that has always fascinated me about soap operas is what Feuer identified as “no action [being] irreversible” (p. 15). I think this feature of nothing being ‘irreversible’ is what gives soap operas “’an indefinitely expandable middle’” (p.12).  There is no need to come up with a conclusion or ever end an action because it can always be returned to; even death is not final in a soap opera (or in network television from time to time; recall dead Denny making a ghost love with Izzie on Grey’s Anatomy). 

I’m interested in discussing further the ideas brought up in the piece about the issue with sitcoms “forc[ing] a false sense of social integration by the end of each episode” (p. 15).  I think it’s noteworthy to consider soap operas as an alternative to sitcoms that are cable of tackling ideas, though maybe less overtly, over a longer period of time and without the constraints of needing to box up a perfect ending or closure to the idea.  The lack of resolve that occurs in melodramas, particularly in soap operas, enables soap operas to address large issues without those issues becoming permanent markers on the characters, themes, or even direction of the show.  I think the concept of ambivalence generated by sitcoms like All in the Family and even more contemporary shows like Black-ish is what I have the most difficult time reconciling.  Their format demands that a conclusion be reached about any particular issue instead of demanding to address the ongoing-ness of issues, particularly those issues related to race, gender, and class. It’s troublesome that people during any point in time were cheering for Archie Bunker for President.  Similarly it’s also troubling that in Black-ish, color is being seen and viewed as “flava” (as discussed last week) or a unique style that can be sprinkled on or added to (or removed from) something as necessary.  When Andre is made the “Urban” vice president, he’s the only one upset—he’s the only one who sees his self-identity instead of his talents or skills being exploited for the capital gain of the company he works for. While soap operas don’t necessarily provide less ambivalence than sitcoms to these larger issues, the fact that they don’t require conclusions does leave them more open to exploring such issues more thoroughly and frequently.

On a bit of a different note, while I was reading this particular piece I was trying to think of why I like even like soap operas and Feuer brings up this critic’s idea about soaps reinforcing bourgeois norms, specifically that “the prime-time soaps confirm the suspicion that great wealth and power are predicated on sin, and, even more satisfying, don’t buy happiness anyway” (p.15).  I have to admit, this really hit the nail on the head when I thought about why I like watching so much Real Housewives or even spin-offs like Vanderpump Rules; although these particular shows are “reality” television, there is a certain superiority that one begins to feel when watching the lives of others be sloppy, back-handed, and overly-dramatic.  This kind of touches back on our ideas about television promoting a self-regulated citizen who can be ok with their basic cable package because having more channels won’t bring them extra happiness anyway.  


  1. I loved this post Eren! I also love the idea of shows like Real Housewives and Vanderpump as reality soap opera hybrid. If the popularity of daytime soaps is being wiped out and is now prevalent on nighttime primetime, that's also certainly true for reality programming. I wonder what can be said of those reunion shows - do they ever provide closure, or is just another fun way to watch more interactions? And a lot of these shows are about the 1%- Dynasty to Dallas to Young and Restless too all the Housewives installments to Revenge.

    1. Hey Stef! Your question about the reunion shows is really thought provoking. Tying it into Erendira's point about television helping to create a self-regulated citizen, I think some of the reunion shows are meant to further teach us how to manage our own emotions / bodies / selves (though this is admittedly speculative on my part). This is particularly true of reunions for shows like Teen Mom, or the follow up episodes on cast members from rehabilitation themed shows like Celebrity Rehab. I think it might be interesting to think about what kind of cultural and pedagogical work these reunions do when they are mediated through the figure of an "expert" (Dr. Drew). Perhaps our viewing of these cast members' public "therapy" is meant to guide us toward our own self-analysis and self-improvement, allowing our dwindling public services to be 'let off the hook' in a way. Why invest in public health services when Reality TV can teach us how to heal ourselves? Why fight for universal healthcare when citizens can watch Dr. Oz for his recommendations? Again, this is entirely speculative and I'm probably stretching a bit far, but it's interesting to think about...

    2. E! I was only thinking about the reunions in term of Housewives- if the cat fights, etc. ensued, bot those kind of competition shows you're right, the reunions have a "resolution." Maybe this shows even more that Housewives is like a soap, serialized, with no closure. Unless I'm totally wrong about Housewives narrative arcs, I've only been a casual viewer to be brutally honest. The latter part is interesting, kind of a take on the neoliberal citizen and of health and wellness-related reality TV.

    3. Totally! I think Teen Mom is kind of the bridge between the two types of reunion shows we've mentioned (which is what your original comment got me thinking about). I don't think Teen Mom reunion specials ever have a full resolution and Teen Mom is very soap opera-esque as a whole...but at the same time there is the expert figure of Dr. Drew *trying* to get them to change their ways and get back on the "right track", if that makes sense, which in turn teaches us how we should behave and regulate our own lives.

  2. Eren,
    Nice post. And I'll tell you, I came away from the pilot of Black-ish with a similar sense of ambivalence at the way the resolution felt more like acquiescence than anything else. Feurer mentions a sort of safety valve effect that dramatic genres can serve, releasing dangerous ideas and values. And a show like Black-ish could be read that way, where each weekly episode gives space to "dangerous" racial ideas in order to restitch the social fabric once they've been exorcised. But I'm not sure I'm totally on board with Feurer's reading of sit-com resolution. For one thing, we've discussed before the way that the resolution at the end of the episode might be less important than the conflicts awoken in the course of the story. The genie isn't so easy to get back into the bottle as "Betty, Girl Engineer" might want us to believe. But even more importantly, in a god sit-com, a well-executed episode, the resolution should still practically throb with the potential for the next episode's conflict. The social order is reintegrated but imperfectly and imperfectly enough for the audience to know it. Ideally, it's an irresolute resolution. I don't know that the conservative impulses of the social order are well served by that. In the end, if I'm going to really take issue with the resolution of Black-ish, it's going to be for the poorness of it's final act and the way it made its resolution feel too comfortable.